The countdown has officially begun in my home. Thea keeps asking me when I go back to school knowing that this year she will go as well. I keep looking at my to do lists wondering when I can send the welcome letter, when I can label my lockers, when I can start to really get excited. And yet before the year really begins, we all have to get through the back to school days. You know, those days filled with meetings, even more new initiatives, and even more changes. Where you leave the day with your head spinning and your spirits sometimes bruised. Where you go home and think you just need to get through all of the information so the greatness of the year can begin. I think it’s time to reclaim those back to school days. To make them relevant and spirit-lifting. To make them exciting and something teachers cannot wait to come to. To make them the best start to a very new year. So here are some ideas, and if you already do this, thank you. Or if you have better ideas than me, please add them.
Use email – We know you have a lot to cover, but keep it brief, send us an email if you can with all the basic stuff that we can read and refer back to when needed. Expect people to read it and make that expectation clear. Bullet points work great!
Show videos – funny, inspiring, and with a point, and the ones that quickly get to the point. Often a video of an educator doing something inspiring is betetr than sharing the story.
Keep it local – Bring in our superstars of the district to share their knowledge. Show videos created by our students. Show videos of our teachers teaching, our supports staff helping, people learning. Too often we go outside of districts to bring in experts and forget about the experts right at home. Highlight the greatness that comes from your district or school.
Give us the why – often so many changes are thrust upon us at the beginning of the year and while I don’t need a lengthy explanation, i would love to know the why. It is hard to believe in something when you don’t understand why it is being implemented.
Highlight the past – Bring up what worked last year. What parents said, what students did, what people saw. Build our success on the success of last year.
Foreshadow the future – If you know something incredible is going to happen in the future year, bring it up, give us something to build to ward, to look forward to.
Give us time – we know you have a lot of information to give us, so give us time to process it with our teams. There are so many meetings determined by others, give us time to figure out who we need to meet with before school starts.
Do a mini-edcamp – why not start the year with a mini edcamp where people can choose what they need to learn about. Contact some people beforehand and ask them to highlight and be ready to share certain things, then leave room for others to bring up discussions. Even a few sessions of choice can do incredible things for teacher preparedness and buy-in.
Cut it short – Most people think they are great public speakers, most people are not. Not because their heart isn’t in it, not because they are not wonderful and knowledgable, but because they stray off the path, they add to o much information, or they ramble. So keep it short and to the point.
Don’t kill us with the negative – I know we face a lot of challenges and I am not asking for you to shield us from them. But one person can only take so much beating down within a few days to where they simply become deflated. So don’t spare us, but do think of what the most important challenges are that face us and focus on them. Frame them as a challenge not as a failure.
Inspire us – I know it is a lot to ask, but I would really like to be inspired by the start of the school year. I would really like to have the opportunity to feel uplifted and energized, believed in and trusted.
Spread the burden – Don’t just feel that you have to do the inspiring; ask others to contribute. We should all be a part of the back to school days, we should all contribute positive energy to start the year right. Don’t think as an administrator that it all falls on you, because it shouldn’t. Bring in a team of people to start the year off right. Bring in people who others may not see as leaders or speakers. Bring in people that have a purpose and have an energy that can rub off.
What did I miss? How can we make these back to school days inspiring, something to look forward to? There has to be a way for them to lose their reputation of being a waste of time.
I am a passionate 5th grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.